December 19, 2017

2017 Research Highlights — Clinical Advances

Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Human Disease

With NIH support, scientists across the United States and the world conduct wide-ranging research to improve the health of our nation. Groundbreaking NIH-funded research often receives top scientific honors. In 2017, these included 4 NIH-supported Nobel Prize winners and 2 NIH-funded recipients of top awards from the Lasker Foundation. Here’s just a small sampling of the research accomplishments made by NIH-supported scientists in 2017. For more health and medical research findings from NIH, visit NIH Research Matters.

Full 2017 NIH Research Highlights List

Progress on two Ebola vaccines

The 2014-16 outbreak of the highly contagious Ebola disease in West Africa sounded alarm bells around the world. The outbreak, while alarming, was also an opportunity for researchers to test two experimental vaccines in Liberia. Both vaccines induced lasting immune responses and were found to be safe. The results are an important step in the development of an effective Ebola vaccine.

Genetic testing improves blood thinner dosing

Some people are sensitive to a common type of blood thinner known as warfarin, which puts them at risk of bleeding, a life-threatening side effect. A study showed that a genetic test can help identify sensitive patients and predict the best warfarin dose to give them. Individually tailored dosing can improve the safety of this blood thinner.

Bionic pancreas treats adults with type 1 diabetes

To regulate blood glucose levels, people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day—either as a shot or with an insulin pump. A study showed that a bionic pancreas system, which relies on a continuous glucose monitor and smart phone connected to an insulin pump, was better than the usual pump method for blood glucose control. After more testing, the bionic pancreas could become another option for people with type 1 diabetes.

HIV prevention approach reduces new infections in Ugandan district

Combining several methods of HIV prevention significantly reduced the number of new HIV infections in a district of Uganda during a seven-year period. Large numbers of people were encouraged to adopt new behaviors, such as using HIV-suppressing treatment, having only one sexual partner, and choosing to have male circumcision. The study shows that this combined approach can reduce new HIV infections in a population.

Preventing alcohol use among American Indian and rural youth

Researchers have tested many approaches to curb underage drinking rates. But methods that work in one racial or ethnic group may not work well in another. Because American Indian teens have high rates of alcohol problems, researchers tested prevention strategies in six communities within the Cherokee Nation area of northeastern Oklahoma. Two distinct prevention strategies reduced alcohol use among American Indian and other youth living in these rural communities.

Minimizing surgery for melanoma that has spread

If there’s a sign that the deadly skin cancer melanoma has spread to at least one nearby lymph node, surgeons usually remove the entire cluster of lymph nodes. Although this improves the chance of removing all the cancer cells that may be there, it also causes unwanted side effects. This year, a study showed that this practice doesn’t extend life. Instead, patients can be monitored after surgery to remove a single node and then undergo more extensive surgery later, if needed.

Stem cell transplant induces multiple sclerosis remission

MS develops when the immune system attacks the central nervous system. Researchers have been developing a treatment that knocks out and replaces the malfunctioning immune system. Three-year results reported in 2015 showed that most of the 24 study participants with early-stage MS survived without an increase in disability. The five-year results showed that most people didn’t worsen, despite not taking MS medications. 

Yoga eases moderate to severe chronic low back pain

A study with people from economically disadvantaged communities, who are disproportionately affected by chronic low back pain, showed that a specially designed yoga class was just as effective as physical therapy for reducing pain and improving physical function. While most studies have been conducted with white, middle class volunteers, this showed that a structured yoga program is helpful to those from economically disadvantaged communities.